A Special Cheesecake for July 4th Celebrations

Although weather forecasters are predicting plenty of rain and cooler weather for the long July 4th weekend in New England, this news has not dampened my spirits when it’s comes to cooking. My spouse and I are looking forward to savoring some pulled pork barbecue sandwiches along with corn on the cob slathered with cilantro lime butter, coleslaw, and baked beans scented with bacon and maple syrup. Truth be told, I ordered my pulled pork from Corky’s (my favorite barbecue spot in Memphis, my hometown!) That leaves plenty of time to prepare the sides and a special cheesecake for dessert.       

An extra creamy, orange-scented cheesecake mounded with local strawberries tossed in sugar and a hint of orange liqueur might just be the pièce de résistance of our meal. I’ve had the recipe for over a decade, but reworked and updated it recently. For the crust, I patted a mixture of graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and melted butter onto the bottom of the pan, and baked it quickly to ensure that the bottom layer stays crisp. For the filling, velvety smooth mascarpone plus traditional American cream cheese are beaten together until smooth before sugar combined with orange zest is added.

This cheesecake has been a hit with those who sampled it while I was working on the recipe. It can be baked a day ahead and will easily serve 12. Plus, it’s definitely in the showstopper category for appearance. It’s also easy to transport, if you are driving. Just leave the cheesecake in the spring form pan, cover with foil, and unmold upon arrival. Happy July 4th everyone!



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July 4th Mascarpone Cheesecake with Strawberries

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
3/8 teaspoon cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon ground ginger 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus extra softened butter for the pan

3/4 cup sugar
5 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest, from 4 to 5 large navel oranges
16 ounces mascarpone cheese at room temperature 
12 ounces cream cheese (See cooking tip.)                                       
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten in a small bowl to blend

3 cups strawberries, stemmed, hulled and halved or quartered if large (about 1 quart)
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon orange liqueur such as Triple Sec or Cointreau (if you don't have any liqueur, substitute 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice)

1. Arrange an oven rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides of a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.

2. .For crust, place graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, and ginger in medium bowl and stir with a fork to mix. Pour in the melted butter, and stir until mixture is thoroughly moistened. With your hands, press the mixture firmly in an even layer onto the bottom of the springform pan. Place pan in oven and bake 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature before adding the filling.

3. For filling combine sugar and orange zest in a medium bowl, and using your fingers rub the orange zest into the sugar until blended and mixture is a pale orange hue. With an electric mixer on medium high speed, (using the flat paddle if you have one) beat mascarpone and cream cheese in a bowl until blended and smooth, about 2 minutes or more. Gradually add the sugar mixture, and beat until blended in, about 2 minutes more. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. The mixture should be lump free and velvety smooth; if not, beat a minute or two more. Add eggs and beat just until incorporated. Pour the filling into the prepared pan, and with a metal spatula or table knife smooth the top.

4. Bake the cheesecake 40 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave the cake in the oven with door shut for another 40 minutes. Remove and cool the cheesecake to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate it at least 3 hours or until chilled and set. (Cheesecake can be prepared 1 day ahead. Bring to room temperature 30 minute before serving.)        

5, For topping, place strawberries in a large bowl and taste one. Depending on their sweetness, combine 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar with 1 teaspoon orange zest, and rub until blended. Toss berries with this mixture until sugar has dissolved. Toss with orange liqueur. (Berries can be prepared 1 hour ahead; leave at cool room temperature.)

6. To serve, run a sharp knife around the inside edges of the pan to loosen the cheesecake, then remove sides, and place cake on a serving plate. Spoon strawberries on top of the cheesecake. Serves 12.

Cooking tip: Although I tested this cheesecake using all mascarpone, I found that balancing the latter with some cream cheese was needed to give the cheesecake its structure.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2021

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